Working in Cultural Resource Management – One Perspective from Underwater Archaeology – By Amanda Evans

February 15, 2011

I recently attended the Society for Historical Archaeology’s Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology in Austin, Texas. As a professional it’s easy to become focused on my niche within archaeology, but attending conferences like SHA always reminds me of the diversity of jobs available in the field. When I began studying archaeology, like most new students in the field, I recognized that jobs existed in universities and museums, but I didn’t realize just how many jobs were also available in the private sector. According to a 2005 survey conducted by the Society for American Archaeology, 34% of respondents indicated that they were employed in an academic setting, including full, assistant, visiting, or adjunct professors and research assistants and post-docs. The next largest employment sector identified was that of cultural resource management (CRM), which accounted for approximately 28% of the total (the full report is available online at http://www.saa.org/Portals/0/SAA/membership/survey/full.pdf).

Cultural resource management is a somewhat ambiguous term, and its meaning is defined and debated in numerous volumes (e.g., Jordan E. Kerber’s 1994 edited volume Cultural Resource Management: Archaeological Research, Preservation Planning, and Public Education in the Northeastern United States). According to the National Park Service (United States Department of the Interior), cultural resource management is defined as “the range of activities aimed at understanding, preserving, and providing for the enjoyment of cultural resources. It includes research related to cultural resources, planning for actions affecting them, and stewardship of them in the context of overall … operations. …” (http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/nps28/28contents.htm). The term is broad but in the United States it is most commonly associated with the practice of conducting archaeology in compliance with Federal and State laws. CRM practitioners are typically identified as archaeologists working for private companies who perform archaeological surveys prior to and during development of federally owned or managed lands, and projects that require federal permits or will use federal funding. In underwater archaeology many of these surveys are performed prior to projects such as dredging, construction of piers and jetties, harbor improvements, beach renourishment, and other projects that may impact submerged bottom lands.

My current position is Senior Marine Archaeologist for Tesla Offshore, a full service geophysical survey company, and it falls within the realm of cultural resource management. Most of my work is related to the offshore energy industry, conducting surveys required by the (at the time of writing) Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to ensure that no archaeological resources are impacted by ground disturbing activities on the Outer Continental Shelf. It’s a job that has brought many unexpected opportunities.

Working in my niche of CRM presents opportunities to work with cutting edge technologies and collaborate with fields outside of archaeology. I have had to learn how to acquire, process, and interpret various remote sensing data sets, ranging from sensors standard in archaeology, such as side scan sonar and magnetometer, to processed multifold seismic data and 3-D scanning sonar. I have worked with geophysicists, geologists, oceanographers, and engineers on multidisciplinary projects. On the other hand, the nature of the work requires a focus on more mundane research as well. Due to safety regulations offshore, I often do not dive on sites firsthand but work in partnership with commercial divers, and increasingly in deepwater with ROV pilots and technicians. I work primarily with geophysical data, and one objective of data interpretation is separating targets related to modern activities from those that may represent historically significant resources. For me this has meant learning more about fishing, trawling, marine disposal, and offshore construction activites. This is because it is necessary to know what kinds of ships and equipment are used in the day to day operations in a given project area to provide an adequate analysis of the data to evaluate each target on its potential historical significance. Like most CRM projects, I do not get to pick the areas in which I work; those are dictated by the needs of clients. I see this not so much as a challenge, but an interesting opportunity. The initial survey phase of a project (Phase I) includes addressing any and all potential archaeological resources that may be present in the project area. Offshore this ranges from now submerged prehistoric sites on the continental shelf to historic ships and materials. A multidisciplinary approach goes into each survey, since project data has to be interpreted relative to the local history and geology of the area – is there a potential for preserved prehistoric sites? How does the local geology impact the ambient magnetic field? How hard is the seafloor and will net sediment accretion contribute to burial and preservation of targets? Research interests and opportunities can stem directly from work-related studies. My dissertation research on submerged prehistoric archaeology in the Gulf of Mexico stemmed directly from my professional experience and work. It is possible to pursue your own personal research interests in CRM, but it takes effort. One of the more frustrating aspects I find in my particular niche is that we typically do not get to investigate all of the targets we find in more detail. We assign an avoidance zone to a target of interest, but further investigation is often beyond the client’s scope of work. It is however, possible to take the initiative to conduct further research. I have been fortunate that my company has allowed us the opportunity to acquire additional data at sites, conduct additional research, and seek out funding opportunities to investigate promising sites in greater detail. Working in CRM is like anything in life. You get out of it whatever you put into it. In my experience, CRM can be an exciting and interesting place to work, but there is a danger of complacency or becoming marginalized if one doesn’t make an extra effort.

Reflecting back on graduate school, it seemed much easier to stay current on literature in the field, and abreast of new projects and resources when I was in an academic environment. What happens though when you move away from that environment? Most university libraries offer access to print and electronic versions of hundreds and even thousands of journals, and if your local library doesn’t have it, Interlibrary Loan can get it for you. Once separated from the academic environment, these resources can be expensive to maintain or difficult to find. Staying current takes more of an effort, both to locate the resources and obtain funding for them. It also takes time which is typically monopolized by clients, proposals, reports, and never-ending deadlines. A schedule filled with deadline driven projects doesn’t easily lend itself to publishing books or articles, which may or may not be considered part of the job description in CRM. It can be all too easy to become narrowly entrenched in your job to the exclusion of the field around you. One of the great things about archaeology is that it is a continually growing field, always expanding on previous knowledge. It thrives on collaboration and interdisciplinary work but it requires that you make the effort to poke your head up out of the rabbit hole every once in a while. I find that attending conferences and contributing to organizations such as the ACUA and RPA help me to stay inspired, motivated, and in touch with colleagues across the spectrum. By taking advantage of opportunities to participate in public education or outreach, such as giving public talks or participating in local archaeology-themed events, CRM practitioners can keep connected with their local communites and continue to educate and inform.

Every CRM firm is different, and there are a multitude of job descriptions that all can be categorized as cultural resource management. No matter how they categorize their job, most archaeologists are in the field because they love what they do. Whether we identify as cultural resource managers, professors, or shovelbums, we accept that our first responsibility is to the resource, and that to do our jobs we need to stay current in our knowledge, disseminate our findings, and contribute to the discipline.

Amanda Evans is the Senior Marine Archaeologist for Tesla Offshore, LLC in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She holds a MA in Anthropology from Florida State University, and a BA in Anthropology from Indiana University. She is an elected member and officer of the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology (ACUA), and an appointed Director of the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA). In addition to her regular responsibilities with Tesla she is the PI for a research project that includes the investigation of unidentified shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico to assess their potential historical significance, and incorporates the use of environmental data in assessing formation processes that may lead to further changes in the wreck sites. Amanda has published several articles on marine archaeology and archaeological preservation. She is currently completing a Ph.D. at Louisiana State University.

* The opinions expressed by guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect those of the MUA, its staff, or its partner organizations.


One comment

  1. Amanda makes an excellent point regarding staying current in the field. Living in Houston I am fortunate to have access to a large city library and several nearby universities for texts and research materials. But, as Amanda points out, materials such as journals can be costly and outside funding is not always available.

    One way I have found to get around this is to share subcriptions. Many journals are starting to offer electronic versions, including the IJNA. I split the costs for the journals with 2 or 3 other archaeologists and we share the login/password for the electronic version. It keeps our costs reasonable and gives us the access we need.

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